Changing the way women are perceived in their communities

Women in Transition

Transitioning countries, also called developing countries, are those undergoing substantial development to their economies, politics, and societies. It is recognized that women are critical in the full realization of the potential of countries around the world. In many societies, women and girls are not given equal access to education (see education page) nor employment, thus limiting the work force to 50% of available talent and knowledge. When women have higher education and/or a job they are likely to have fewer children, feed those children better, and send them to school. Investing in women leads to greater societal development over time.

Included here are the stories of women who are investing in themselves and the women around them. The work that these women have dedicated their lives to is changing the world. They are changing the way women are perceived in their communities, proving that women are capable, smart, and passionate. Included on this page are the stories, resources, and statistics on women empowering themselves to change their situation, and in turn the world. We focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. These are two countries that have, traditionally, struggled with development and equal rights. There is still much work to be done but both countries have been making significant progress in recent years. Their successes and challenges are highlighted here.


Afghanistan is currently rebuilding after years of war, oppressive rule, and broken institutions. The United Nations, other governments, non-governmental organizations, and private investors are making progress in real terms throughout Afghanistan. But, there is significant development that still needs to occur. The UN Development Program ranks Afghanistan as the only country seriously off track with regards to the Millennium Development Goal of Promotion of Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women. Outlined below are indicators of the current situation in Afghanistan.

  • 7.6 million people, or a third of Afghanistan’s population, are food-insecure. Another 14% are borderline food-insecure. Over half of children under 5 years are chronically malnourished, and one-fifth of Afghan women of child-bearing age are underweight. Full Story

  • According to a 2011 UNICEF report, Afghanistan’s adult literacy rate is 39%. However, adult female literacy rate is only 13%. Sixty percent of the 4.2 million out -of -school children are girls, and there are no female students enrolled in grades 10-12 in 200 out of  412 districts. Although literacy rates are improving, especially in urban areas, female literacy rates remain low in rural areas. Full Story

  • Increasing female literacy is essential to the country’s human development, since the education level of the mother determines her children’s quality of life. Full Story

  • 87% of women suffer from domestic abuse. Few report these abuses due to fear of social stigmatization and many other barriers. Afghanistan is the second lowest country in the 2013 UNDP Gender Inequality Index (147 of 148 nations).
  • Only 5% of cases involving violence against women surveyed by the UN in a recent report ended in prosecution in a formal court. Full Report (for related news stories, see here and here).

  • Afghanistan reserves 25% of its national parliament seats for women. These women have limited power, however, since female politicians are often expected to remain passive, and those who are outspoken become targets for violence. (Full Story)

    In 2015, conservatives in 2015 attempted to eliminate the law requiring 25% of parliament seats to be reserved for women. (Full story)

  • In 2014, Afghanistan’s infant rates were the highest in the world, due to infectious disease, respiratory infections, malnutrition, and vaccine preventable illnesses. There has been success with immunization programs, though more so in urban than rural areas. Malnutrition and poor sanitation are major contributing factors to poor infant and child health throughout the country. Full Story 

  • Over half of Afghanistan’s population, particularly pregnant women and children, are vulnerable to malaria. It has the second highest number of malaria cases of countries in the region. Full story

  • Although awareness and use of modern family planning methods has increased, the percentage of women using contraceptives remains low at 20%. Full Story

  • Over 60% of reported tuberculosis cases are among women, even when more men suffer from tuberculosis in most other parts of the world. Full report; Summary of report

Ongoing Efforts:

Outlined below are ongoing efforts by development agencies throughout Afghanistan. The UN has stressed the need to keep the development of Afghanistan as a top priority in the coming years in order for the broader effects of international support for Afghanistan to manage its own affairs is likely to fail.  Full Story

  • There are many grassroots economic development efforts on going throughout Afghanistan. Arzu employs rural Afghan women to weave rugs which are sold in developed countries. Arzu provides training, literacy, and health services, including water filtration and community centers. Full Story

  • Women for Afghan Women is a women’s rights organization which advocates for the rights of Afghan women and provides education, community organization, crisis intervention, and shelters for women throughout Afghanistan. Full Story

  • USAID is invested in Afghanistan’s long-term development, which includes women’s education. Full Story

  • In 2003, for 100,000 live births, 1,600 women died; there was also lack of access to qualified health workers, and 94% of deliveries were attended by unskilled personnel. Due to efforts from organizations such as the UNDP, the maternal mortality rate has fallen significantly. Full Story


    Here are stories of how these development efforts are changing the lives of women and girls throughout Afghanistan:

    • The Women of Kabul is an ongoing project to chronicle the lives of five women in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban. This project gives insight to the changes that have been made in Afghanistan, and how those affect the lives of individual women. Full Story

    • First hand accounts from women on the way their lives have changed under and since the fall of the Taliban. Many women are afraid of what will happen to their rights when the international presence is minimized in 2014. Full Story

    Interviews with afghan women and other videos:

    • UNDP Afghanistan shared the stories of Afghan women who are empowered to create change in their communities. Full Story

    • This video is an interview with photographer Jodi Bieber who traveled to Afghanistan to photograph women for a Time article.  Full Story

    • Al Jazeera investigates the real gains in women’s rights since the fall of the Taliban, including interviews with a panel of experts on the current situation in Afghanistan and how best to combat injustices against women.   Full Story

    Encouraging signs:

    • Since 2002, the number of girls attending school has increased 30%
    • The legal age for marriage has been raised to 17, making child marriage more difficult
    • Infant and child mortality is declining due to better access to clean water and sanitation
    • In 2003, for 100,000 live births, 1,600 women died; there was also lack of access to qualified health workers, and 94% of deliveries were attended by unskilled personnel. The maternal mortality rate has fallen significantly to 327 deaths for every 100,000 live births. Full Story

    Afghanistan News Stories:

    • An expose of the women in Afghanistan’s jails and the crimes they have committed. Many women in Kabul jails have been charged with moral crimes and many are victims of abusive husbands. Full Story

    • The efforts of the first female district chief in Afghanista. Full Story
    • A profile of member of parliament, Shinkai Karokhail, and the current state of women in Afghanistan, in particular their role in parliament and other professions. Full Story
    • The Guardian interviewed seven women in Afghanistan on their anxieties with the coming withdrawal of international troops in 2014. Many are worried that their newfound freedom and empowerment will be taken from them. Full Story

    For more information:

    • Facts and figures on the progress of rural women against the Millennium Development goals and resources on gender equality and empowerment of women.  Full Story
    • UN Women is the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women. This is their homepage which highlights their focus areas and ongoing efforts to change the lives of women around the world and Afghanistan in particular. http://www.unwomen.org/


    Pakistan is the third most dangerous country in the world for women. Each year, more than 1,000 women are murdered in ’honor killings’ awhile more than 90 percent suffer domestic abuse. Honor killings are murders, typically by family members, when the victim has brought dishonor upon the family, typically in rural areas in Pakistan. Acid throwing, forced marriages, violence against women including domestic abuse and rape, and forced prostitution are all too common in Pakistan, and in fact, prevalence has been increasing.  The status of women varies greatly depending upon class, region, and tribe.  Full Story

    In 2011, Pakistan was ranked next to last (134 of 135) in the human development index, which is comprised of life expectancy, mean years of school, and gross national income. For the same year, Pakistan was ranked 115 in gender inequality. Current indicators of the development of Pakistan are outline below.

    Current indicators of the development of Pakistan are outline below.

    • If $2 per day is the poverty line, then as much as 60% of the population may be living under the poverty line. Full Story
    • Pakistan ranks 146th out of 187 countries on the United Nations Development Programme's 2013 Human Development Index ’ a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living for countries worldwide. Full Story
    • Rural people make up two thirds of the population. However, they account for 80 percent of the country's poor people. Their livelihoods are dependent on agriculture in land that is arid, rugged, and not easily cultivated. Full Story
    • 60% of the population is literate. The overall primary school enrollment is 57%. The gender difference in literacy is still significant, with only a 47% female literacy rate in comparison to the 70% male literacy rate. The government has devoted only 2% of its budget to education. Full Story
    • Pakistan has been found to have ’very high’ restrictions on women’s decision-making power and status in the household and family dues to factors such as:
      • Early marriage and forced marriage for women
      • Low contraceptive prevalence. Although 95% of married women know of modern contraceptive methods, only 26% are using them. 
      • 99% of women without children are not using any contraceptives.
      • Limited rights or control in divorce, domestic abuse, and rape cases.
      • High bias towards sons, such as in education and healthcare.
      • Full Story
    •  Pakistan reserves 33% of seats in the local elected bodies and 17% of seats in the National Assembly, provincial assemblies, and the Senate for women. In 2014, there were 67 women serving in the National Assembly (20.7%) and 17 (16%) women in the upper house. Full Story  
    • Pakistan’s maternal mortality rate has seen great improvement. In 2001-02 (the latest year with data available) 3,501 women died per 100,000 live births due to complications from pregnancy, labor, or delivery. In 2010, 260 women died per 100,000 live births
    • Malaria and TB death rates have been declining since 2000, with a 2.9% annual drop in malaria cases and a 4.6$ annual drop in malaria mortality rates. TB also declined with 277 cases of TB per 100,000 people and 32 deaths per 100,000 people. Full story

    Ongoing Efforts:

    • There are ongoing efforts to decrease the level of violence against women throughout Pakistan. OXFAM is working to secure displaced women and change cultural norms to make violence against women unacceptable. Full Story
    • The Aga Khan Development Network is also operating in rural Pakistan. Activities include building bridges, irrigation channels, and infrastructure projects. All of these programs utilize local networks and community based approaches, promoting the involvement of women throughout the process. Full Story
    • MEDA Pakistan is working to empower women through employment and education with the goal of self-sufficiency. Many women participating in MEDA Pakistan are involved in farming or the textile industry and MEDA opens new markets to the women to sell their products in. Donors include USAID, the Canadian government and FAO United Nations. http://www.meda.org.pk/
    • There has been progress made recently with regards to the legal standing of women in Pakistan. The Protection of Women Act begins to ensure safety and security of women in Pakistan by focusing on sexual harassment at the workplace and acid throwing. Discussion of this act can be found in this United States Institute of Peace Special Report, which highlights the increasing emphasis on human rights throughout Pakistan.  Full Story

    The lives of Pakistani women are highlighted in these stories. The presence of abuse in the daily lives of women is striking and the need for change is abundantly clear.

    • This article profiles six poor women in Pakistan about their day-to-day lives and the horrors they endure each and every day. Full Story
    • Photo Gallery of Pakistani women with short biographies accompanying their portraits. Gallery
    • There are encouraging signs for the role women can play in Pakistani society. More women are involved in politics and business than ever before. Highlighted here are female leaders Pakistan who are paving the way for future leaders Full Story
    • Moreover, three Pakistani women made the Foreign Policy Top 100 Global Thinkers list, including activists and politicians. Here are their short biographies Full Story

    For more information:

    • UN Women, the United Nations entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women provides advice and support for the implementation of gender equality and empowerment agenda, with a focus upon economic security, political participation, and freedom from violence. In here are the programs (Full Story) that are active in Pakistan and the results (Full Story) that have been seen thus far.
    • The United Nations Development Program, in partnership with the Government of Pakistan is working to achieve outlined development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. This site details prioritized goals including building democratic society, supporting credible, transparent, and inclusive elections, and fighting poverty. http://undp.org.pk/


    • The story of Sughra Solangi, who received the International Women of Courage award from the U.S. State Department, presented by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama for her work of empowerment of the women of Pakistan. Video
    • The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have launched a campaign to help Pakistan battle pneumonia, which although completely preventable, continues to kill large numbers of children throughout rural Pakistan. Video

    Pakistan News Stories:

    • April 7, 2013, Badam Zari has become the first woman to run for political office in the Federally Administered Tribal Area in Pakistan.  Full Story
    • On March 27, 2013, two motorcyclists killed a female Pakistani teacher in Peshawar. The UN has condemned this attack, along with others on female aid workers and teachers throughout Pakistan. Full Story

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